The government is seeking out ways to support “femtech” startups as more businesses see the intersection of technology and female health as an opportunity to tap into new areas of growth.
In June, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry chose 20 femtech companies for a combined subsidy of ¥150 million ($1.4 million) to help them develop products and services that can help women cope with issues such as menstruation, pregnancy, infertility treatment and menopause.
The global market for technology geared toward women is projected to reach $60 billion in 2027, up from about $19 billion in 2019, according to Emergen Research. By addressing challenges for women’s health, which had for years been viewed as taboo in Japan, the government’s goal is to prevent women from giving up their careers. Improving women’s health will result in an annual economic impact of ¥2 trillion by 2025, according to the ministry.
“The technology element will enable Japan to address women’s health issues in a frank manner” instead of viewing them as taboo, said Asuka Murayama, deputy director of the trade ministry’s economic and industrial policy bureau. The subsidies will help boost competitiveness for Japanese firms, and “there’s no question that it’s a growing industry,” Murayama said.
In the U.S. alone, funding for women-focused digital health startups doubled last year to $418 million, spread across 22 companies, according to Rock Health, a San Francisco-based seed and early stage venture fund.
One of the firms selected by the government is Hitobito, a retailer of so-called delicate zone soaps, lotions and other products with a mission to boost health literacy in Fukushima Prefecture, where it is headquartered.
“I wanted to address the fundamental issues facing women’s economic activity,” said Miai Kobayashi, a former civil worker. However, the sector still lacks investor support, she added.
Among larger corporations, Sharp Corp. is working on a storage case for menstrual pads that keeps track of how many are left, helping users remember to stock up or prevent them from buying too many.
Reducing inconveniences related to menstruation could deliver an economic lift of ¥240 billion by 2025, according to the economy ministry’s estimates. Addressing women’s health issues such as menopause will result in annual benefits of ¥1.3 trillion, the agency predicts.
The income gap between male and female consumers in Japan was 33% in 2020, which is much worse than other major economies, according to Aya Suzuki, a research analyst at Euromonitor International. But Japan has become “increasingly aware of this gender equality issue” as more women become more vocal and assertive, she said.
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